Disclaimer: While I offer tips for maintaining wellness while dealing with a chronic illness, I’m not a licensed medical physician, psychotherapist, or psychologist, and I’m not offering medical or psychiatric advice.
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Do your days feel like a constant struggle since you’ve been dealing with chronic illness?
I totally get it – I struggled the first couple of years after getting diagnosed with Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. It felt difficult to make commitments because I felt like I’d be compromising my integrity if suddenly had to cancel them – and this is something I still struggle with to this day.
But, one of the most powerful things I ever did to help me cope with this fear of making commitments was learning to adapt my plans and be flexible.
This post is part 2 of the 5 Keys to Adaptability for Those Living With Chronic Illness series. You can read part 1 here if you haven’t already.
So, get as comfy as your body allows, and let’s get started!
Why is flexibility important for those living with chronic illness?
Before we dive into 7 of the most powerful ways flexibility helps those living with chronic illness, let’s talk about why it’s important.
For me, flexibility helps me live life to the fullest, even when I have flare-ups. It allows me to adapt my schedule and activities to whatever my abilities are at that moment. Flexibility helps me remain active and sociable in ways that are sustainable for me, and without creating guilt when I have to readjust things.
Flexibility is also important for those with chronic illness because it can help us manage our symptoms. If we’re prepared to deal with a random flare-up by having a plan B, keeping medications on hand, or having our mobility aids ready if we need them, we’re less likely to push ourselves past what are bodily limits are. We can pace ourselves in our daily routines so we have the energy we need to manage our tasks.
Additionally, flexibility allows us to set reasonable goals.
For example, instead of adopting an all-or-nothing attitude towards exercise as someone living with chronic illness & pain, we can approach it with a flexible mindset.
Maybe instead of setting a goal to work out for 30 minutes every day, we instead set a goal to enjoy some mindful movement whenever our pain and discomfort level allows. We can come up with a list of low-impact activities to do when we’re not feeling our best, which will allow us to keep this commitment while still being flexible.
Learning to be flexible in our approach to managing chronic illness is also a way to mitigate any anxiety or other stress our condition may cause. And, it also helps us maintain and strengthen ou personal relationships, all of which are important to our overall physical and mental health and well-being. We learn to reassess and adjust our priorities and responsibilities, and to communicate our needs openly and honestly with our loved ones.
All of these things can help us feel successful in our lives, rather than allowing our illnesses and conditions to leave us feeling defeated.
7 of the Most Powerful Ways Flexibility Helps Those Living With Chronic Illness
Now that we’ve covered why flexibility is important for those living with chronic illness, let’s dive into the 7 tips I’ve got for you today!
- Prioritizing self-care and rest to manage symptoms and fatigue.
- Learning to slow down when you have a chronic illness can certainly be challenging. It’s definitely something I struggled with when I was first diagnosed with IIH (you can read more about that story here!). But the thing is, in order to preserve the wellness and energy levels we do have, we need to learn to put ourselves first by taking care of ourselves. We can learn to tap into the signals our bodies are giving us that let us know when it’s time to rest and learn to set healthy boundaries to support us in our efforts to manage our illness.
- Communicating openly with family, friends, and healthcare providers about needs and accommodations.
- Open and honest communication is the key to any healthy relationship, and it’s especially important when you live with a chronic illness. While it can sometimes be a struggle to find healthcare providers who listen and support you in the way you need, there are numerous resources out there that can help you learn to be your own best advocate. Additionally, not withholding the truth of how your illness impacts your daily life from your loved ones will help them be able to truly understand and support you, thus deepening and strengthening your relationships and helping them to be more accommodating when your plans need to change.
- Being open to trying different treatment options and being willing to adjust plans if they don’t work as well as expected.
- I’m sure you know the saying “if at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again”, am I right? If you’re a spoonie, you’re probably really well acquainted with this concept. And if not, here’s your chance to try it. Because the reality is that we’re all different – our bodies and illnesses are unique and how they respond to different treatments is unique as well. With any health challenge, there’s never a one-size-fits-all solution. And if your illness is like mine, there are more things that are unknown about it than are known. In this case, especially, being open and willing to try different approaches can be really helpful in thriving through the illness and finding relief.
- Practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques to help manage stress.
- You’re probably sick of people saying “you’ll feel better if you just try some meditation or do some yoga”. I know I am! And that’s not what I’m saying here, at all. What I’m suggesting is taking some time to sit with your body’s experience – when you’re able and it’s not completely overwhelming – and to notice what emotions these experiences create. Being present with the emotions that living with chronic illnesses brings up allows us to have a holistic approach to managing our illness. Additionally, stress-reduction and mindfulness techniques have been shown to decrease chronic pain for some people, and it’s free, so I figure it’s worth a shot, right?
- Being open to making adjustments to daily routines and schedules to accommodate symptoms or treatment side effects.
- Sometimes a flare-up happens out of nowhere. And we’re left with two choices: either push through and suffer the consequences, or change our plans and routines to make room for the flare-up. For me, I had to get out of the habit of getting right into the shower as soon as I got up because the change in my posture from laying down to being upright caused a lot of change in where the excess CSF fluid in my head is. If I were to get in the shower right away, I risk having an accident due to dizziness, vertigo, and vision impairment. So, instead, I sip my coffee and shower at a time when I feel like I am more physically safe. I learned to make this adjustment for the daily symptoms I face with my chronic illness, and this is something you can do as well to help you feel in charge of your wellness and be able to self-manage your illness.
- Being open to changes in work or school arrangements, such as telecommuting or flexible class schedules.
- I know this can be a tough one. None of us really want to change how we work or leave our careers behind when they’ve been such a big part of our lives and identities for so long. I remember being devastated when I could no longer hold a full-time job, but once I adjusted to it, I realized that it wouldn’t have been worth the strain on my body and mental health. So take some time to decide if your current work and/or school schedules are still sustainable for you. And if not, consider setting up a time to discuss what changes you might be able to make with your supervisors and/or teachers.
- Finding ways to adapt hobbies or interests to accommodate any physical limitations.
- I used to be someone who had a really dedicated physical yoga practice. In fact, I even became certified to be a yoga teacher. Then, a few years later, I was hit by a car while walking and had to give up my yoga practice so my body could heal. Several years later, I still hadn’t gotten back the strength and stamina I once had, and I was diagnosed with IIH. For me, this meant no yoga at all because I can’t seem to find a way of practicing that’s fulfilling to me based on how I used to practice, yet doesn’t cause a flare-up. Instead, I use ballet as a way to practice joyful, gentle movements while being fully present in my body. By learning to adapt your favorite hobbies and activities to any changes your illness has brought to your abilities, you’ll still be able to experience the wonderful gifts those things brought to your life, even if in practice they look a bit different to those on the outside.
So, to wrap things up, learning to be flexible when dealing with chronic illness and pain can be monumental in affecting our overall sense of well-being and satisfaction in our lives.
This doesn’t mean it’s always easy, but if we can persevere, become resilient, and be willing to adapt and make the necessary changes, we’re sure to be able to live our lives to the fullest and experience more joy through our conditions than we thought possible.
Are you wanting to go a little deeper into the practice of flexibility and learning to adapt to your chronic illness? If so, my workbook was made just for you! Get the details and grab your free copy below!
May your flares be few and your spoons be plenty,